By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISWMarc Herstand

“There is power in unity…There is power in numbers”

(Martin Luther King, Jr in his “Keep on Moving” speech in May 1963)

One thing I have learned in my many years as the NASW-WI Executive Director and lobbyist, is that building and mobilizing coalitions can be the key to passing legislation or stopping bad legislation.

From approximately 1999-2009, NASW- WI worked with a coalition that was eventually successful in getting a Mental Health Parity bill passed in Wisconsin that required insurance companies to cover mental health and substance abuse at a similar level as they cover physical health.  During this period, NASW-WI also worked on coalitions that passed a bill requiring hospitals to provide the morning after pill to victims of rape or incest, and another coalition that stopped Conceal Carry Legislation (Conceal Carry eventually passed when the Republicans took full control of the Legislature).

In every legislative session since 2011, NASW-WI has participated in a large coalition promoting a human services oriented state budget.

In recent years, NASW-WI has been involved with coalitions fighting bills that could result in the Legislature eliminating rules important to professions and eliminating certification or licensure from some professions.

In the current legislative session, which started in January of 2019, NASW-WI has done more coalition building and mobilization than ever before. 

At the beginning of this legislative session, NASW-WI formed a coalition to promote the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) that would allow family members and police officers to petition a court to get a gun out of a home where the gun owner is a risk to him/herself or others.  The coalition consisted of NAMI Wisconsin, Mental Health America-Wisconsin, WAVE (Wisconsin Anti-Violence Education Fund) MomSense and a retired Madison Police Officer specializing in gun safety and suicide prevention.  Our coalition met with numerous Republican legislators and mobilized speakers on ERPO at a Suicide Prevention Task Force hearing. 

Also early in 2019, NASW-WI organized a small coalition with the Wisconsin Coalition against Sexual Assault and a Sexual Assault survivor to promote passage of the Child Victim’s Act.  NASW-WI, WCASA and the sexual assault survivor also held numerous meetings with Republican legislators.

More recently, NASW-WI formed a coalition promoting the passage of a bill that would ban Conversion Therapy with LGBT children.  NASW-WI has organized two key lobby visits with Republican State Senators.  This coalition has consisted of the Wisconsin Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, NAMI-Wisconsin, GSAFE Wisconsin, Mental Health America-Wisconsin, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, PFLAG and Fair Wisconsin.

When NASW-WI learned that the Suicide Prevention Task Force was promoting a bill to require a half dozen professions to complete two hours of suicide prevention continuing education every two years, we contacted all of the affected professions.  Three of the associations representing these professions-the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Psychological Association and the Wisconsin Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, have participated with us in lobby visits and/or testimony in opposition to this bill.

NASW-WI and its coalition partners opposing this bill were able to persuade the Democratic Assembly members originally signed on to the bill to take their names off.  We were also able to convince six Assembly Republicans to vote against the bill on the Assembly floor.  We are hoping this coalition will be able to stop the bill from passing the State Senate. 

Although we have not won every battle with our coalitions, we have won some that would not have been successful without the coalition.  We are proud to have spearheaded these coalitions and will continue doing this work whenever our political challenges would be strengthened with a coalition.

Of course our ability to “pull our weight” in a coalition, support and protect our profession and promote good public policy is also dependent on the overall strength of NASW-WI in terms of our membership numbers and involvement in advocacy.   We need and tremendously appreciate your support of the profession as an NASW member, and your advocacy with your own elected officials in response to our alerts. 

The challenges facing our profession and our clients never cease, but with your help and the help of our coalition partners we can succeed in our efforts!

Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW